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Sunday, July 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Builder Says Darien, Conn., Excludes Blacks

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CN) - A developer claims Darien refuses to allow affordable housing, in a deliberate attempt to exclude black people from town. The builder claims a member of the town Planning Commission called affordable housing a "virus." Only 0.5 percent of Darien residents are black.

Christopher Hamer and his two Oakview companies sued the Darien Planning and Zoning Commission and its Chairman Frederick Conze, who allegedly called affordable housing a "virus" at an open meeting.

Only 104 of Darien's 20,732 residents are black.

Stamford, which borders Darien on the west, is 21.3 percent black, and Norwalk, directly to Darien's east, is 22.8 percent black, Hamer says.

Hamer claims Darien has excluded African-Americans and other minorities "by keeping housing costs prohibitively high and preventing the construction of affordable housing units which would be attractive to minorities."

He claims that at a July 1, 2008 public meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Conze said, "to cheers from the audience: 'I have to honestly tell you that I look at this as a virus. That once you open the box - once you open the box, you never get - you never get it back in the bottle - because it'll be replicated all over town.'"

Hamer claims Conze reiterated this at the Dec. 14, 2010 State of the Town Meeting, saying: "Our objective is to preserve the character of our town. The demographic and economic forces generated by our immediate neighbors to the east and west cannot be taken lightly. I have spoken of these forces in past Town Addresses. ... [M]any view Darien as a housing opportunity regardless of its effect on the character of our town and existing home values." (Ellipsis and brackets in complaint.)

Hamer and his companies, Oakview Capital Partners and Oakview Housing Trust, sought permits in June 2008 to build 10 affordable condo units "to provide much needed diversity of housing options and increased opportunity for a wider range of income levels," according to the complaint.

"The defendants rejected this application on January 8, 2009, in a ruling which failed to comply with the defendants' burden of proof under the Connecticut Affordable Housing Act."

Hamer says he appealed the denial to Superior Court, but, "Contemporaneously with these events, the defendants secretly colluded with private citizens residing near the subject property in bringing a meritless lawsuit against the plaintiffs for the purpose of increasing the plaintiffs' development costs and making it economically impossible for the plaintiffs to proceed.

"Ultimately, the defendants succeeded in so increasing the plaintiffs' costs that the subject property was lost to foreclosure and the plaintiffs were unable to proceed with their affordable housing proposal. Thereupon, the aforesaid appeal was dismissed as moot.

"As a result, the plaintiffs suffered substantial economic losses."

He adds: "The conduct of the defendants described above was intended to discriminate against expected buyers of the plaintiffs' condominium units on the basis of race, it being the purpose and intention of the defendants to exclude persons of African-American ancestry from the Town of Darien."

He seeks punitive damages for violations of the 14th Amendment, the Fair Housing Act, and the Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities Act.

He is represented by John Williams, of New Haven.

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